Spoiler alert: I’m a plant killer

Growing succulents with love, sunlight and water is sometimes still not enough

Google “are succulents easy to take care of?” and the search results consist of many articles touting that they’re easy-to-please and low maintenance. While succulents are less demanding than some garden plants, they still need attention and care. There are students who can cultivate a plant shop out of their dorm, but without a passion for plants, college students don’t make the best caretakers.

Despite the many commitments college students have, free succulents and pot painting activities grace the Coates Esplanade and the LeeRoy newsletter during every school year. Without a doubt, succulents can be easy to take care of — once you understand their care routine, at least. With proper research about the soil, sunlight and potting conditions, your succulent can go from dying to thriving.

While you could leave a succulent in the sunlight and only water it every two weeks, your plant will die pretty quickly if you don’t check up on its health regularly. I’ve killed my fair share of succulents in my life, and doing research about your plant prevents heartbreak after learning that the plant you were giving direct sunlight for the past month needs indirect sunlight.

If you can’t give a succulent a little tender loving care (TLC), don’t accept it or keep it. Do your research, and get to know your succulents. When I accepted a free plant from the Trinity University Student Ambassadors (TUSA) before spring break, I was elated. I had the perfect pot, and I named her Veronica.

I decided to take her back to Austin to make sure she was properly taken care of, as I have a rocky history with succulents. When I left her back home, I was under the impression that eventually I would take her back to campus.

The week after I left Austin, it started to rain. It wasn’t until hours after the rain had been pouring down when I realized that Veronica was outside, exposed to the elements and likely drowning. I texted my mom in a panic, hoping she would see the message. While Veronica didn’t get a drop of rain on her leaves, I thought about the four succulents I had killed prior because I didn’t take the time to research their care.

My freshman year of high school, I was in a serious plant phase. Succulents were all the rage because they were small, cute and allegedly “easy” to take care of. The first succulent I had was a gift from my brother when he came back from college, and I named him Steve.

I watered Steve sparingly, made sure he got adequate sunlight and soon enough I watched him grow. While Steve was in my care, I received a free cactus from a summer program in high school because I heard they were “impossible to kill.” Then in 2020, right before the pandemic started, I got three free succulents from my high school. I was living the Pinterest dream.

Maybe it was inadequate sunlight or pandemic stress, but one after another I watched their stems go brown and their leaves start to wilt. First went Steve. He grew too tall and his stem started to rot. Then went Gulliver, my moonstone plant, whose leaves started falling off. Followed by Alice and Cristina, my string of buttons who passed because their pots lacked proper drainage. The last plant still growing strong is Rocco, my cactus.

After losing four succulents I didn’t trust myself to take care of plants. I removed “plant supplies” from my Christmas list, and I stopped telling people I grew succulents. I even bought fake plants for my dorm room so I could still keep a piece of my high school self with me.

I needed time away from plants to realize what went wrong. I thought sunlight and water were the only factors that mattered, but plant type and climate drastically alter the care your plant needs.
After I killed Steve, I started to look into the different types of succulent care, and that still didn’t save Gulliver, Alice or Cristina. Maybe a once-in-a-lifetime winter freeze will come along and ruin your hard work. When that happens, take some time away from plants if you need to, and if you’re willing, try again.

Nothing lasts forever, and sometimes the forces of mother nature take over. With the newest succulent I gained from TUSA, I’m hoping to right the wrongs of my troubled plant past. While I can’t go back in time, I want to do better today.